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Selecting a School/Program

Explore a number of programs to find the best fits and increase your chances of being admitted; however, given the cost of applying to graduate school, be selective in which schools you ultimately apply to.  Only apply to schools that meet your needs and satisfy your personal and professional goals.  In general, you should apply to about six programs: two “reach” programs, two “middle of the pack” programs and two “safe” programs.

In addition, you should also gather information from your professors, other students and alumni who have gone on to graduate school, individual program websites, general graduate school websites, Petersons guides, specialty guides and academic journals in your field of interest.

When researching graduate schools, keep the following information in mind:

  • Accreditation:  There are two main types of accreditation, institutional and program specific.  You need to determine the properly accredited degree programs in your field.  While accreditation is not necessarily the key indicator of quality, you could face negative consequences if the program that confers your degree is not accredited.  Note: A school that is not properly accredited may not volunteer this information, so ask their admissions representatives directly.
  • Admission standards: Some schools publish this kind of information, so look for the number of applicants compared with the number of acceptances and the base requirements for admission, which usually includes undergraduate GPA and scores on standardized tests.  If this information is not published, ask an admissions officer or faculty member for these statistics.
  • Multicultural/diversity opportunities: Diversity could be an indicator of a quality program because it can often signal a broader worldview.  Examine the composition of both the faculty and the students in the program.  Also consider multiple types of diversity, rather than solely focusing on one.  You need to determine a mix where you’ll feel both comfortable and appropriately challenged.
  • Reputation/ranking: Rankings can be an indicator of quality, but they should never be the sole reason you select a program.  Examples of organizations that rank graduate programs include U.S. News and World Report, Fortune and Business Week.
  • Size: There are two aspects of size you should evaluate—size of the program and size of its home university.  Examine the resources available to the program, as well as the faculty-student ratios.
  • Faculty: Are the program’s faculty members published?  If so, in what journals?  What are they currently researching?  Does this research match your interests?  Are they well networked within their larger professional community?  Conduct a web search and see what you can find about their publications and research interests.
  • Current students:  Request contact information or arrange a talk with a current student to learn the pros and cons of the program from an insider’s view.
  • Student life: What is the student population?  How large is the graduate program?  What is the student-faculty ratio?  What is the average age of the students enrolled?  Do students attend primarily full or part time?  Are there any student organizations?  What support services are on campus?  What is the social atmosphere?
  • Location:  Where is the school located?  What is the climate?  Is there a community outside of your graduate program that you can plug into?  Can you be happy in this environment for the duration of your program?  If you know you want to live in a certain location after graduation, it is also beneficial to examine the schools in that region.  Oftentimes, the local schools have long-standing relationships with their community, which can come in handy when you start looking for a job.
  • Finances:  What is the tuition for the program?  What kid of financial assistance is available?  Do they have a variety of assistantships, fellowships, grants, and/or loans?  Make sure you examine all associated costs: tuitions, books, supplies, housing and other miscellaneous fees and expenses.
  • “Fit” with your career interests:  If you have a specialized career interest—environmental law, for example—you need to know whether the graduate program offers specialized courses and experiential opportunities in the area and whether it has faculty members with research interest that will allow you to develop the necessary knowledge, skills and contacts to start your professional career successfully.
  • The future:  Does the program assist with the job search after you receive your degree?  Where do the graduates end up working?  What opportunities for internships, research, and jobs are available while you are in the program?
  • Graduation requirements:  Does the program require an exit project, such as a thesis, dissertation, or comprehensive exam?  See the “Graduate School Jargon” for more information about exit requirements.

The following links will be useful to you as you begin the application process:

  • http://www.gradschools.com: Find details about graduate departments and programs that you may be considering.
  • http://www.petersons.com: Helps students find the right graduate school for them, details test preparation and how to pay for graduate school.
  • http://www.graduateguide.com: Learn detailed information about grad schools, financial aid, and loans.
  • http://www.gradview.com: Details financial aid information, scholarships, test preparation, careers and graduate programs.
  • http://www.princetonreview.com: Information about different graduate programs and careers, entrance exams, scholarships, and financial aid.
  • http://www.lsac.org: Provides in-depth information about the law school application process.
  • http://www.mba.com: Provides in-depth information about MBA programs.
  • http://www.aamc.org: Gives a wide variety of information about the medical field such as professional development groups, MCAT, medical schools, jobs, surveys and data.
  • http://www.gradschooltips.com: Provides advice about how to get into graduate school, reasons to consider graduate school, applications, essays, and interviewing

Portions of this website were adapted with permission from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville’s Admission Guide for Graduate School.